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Running: Family bands together to create Metz Memorial

By Budd Bailey


The origin of every road race in Western New York has some sort of story behind it. The tale of the idea for the James Metz Memorial 5K in Lancaster later this month is a particularly poignant one.

Fourteen-year-old James Metz and his younger brother Donovan, of Lancaster, signed up to take part in a free flight program on Sept. 27. The idea was to introduce children to aviation. James went first.

He didn’t come back. Metz’s plane was involved in a freak midair collision; he and the pilot died.

“That afternoon, Donovan started collecting money for Keysa Park” in Lancaster, where James often played basketball, said Nicole Gallagher, a cousin of James. “I said, ‘Wow, a 12-year-old boy is going to make something good come out of this tragedy.’

“Donovan said, ‘What can we do?’ I said, ‘Dude, we’re going to have a 5K race for him.’ ”

The idea was a natural one. Gallagher had been a race director before, and other members of the family were avid runners. The wheels started turning quickly after that.

“Being a race director, it’s easy for me to do this,” Gallagher said. “We got the pieces together, got the proper insurance. The town was on board, and the race was approved. It all happened so quickly. If it weren’t for Donovan, we wouldn’t have moved so quickly.”

The usual series of decisions followed. A race date of May 30 was picked, when the weather would be good and there would be enough time for adequate preparation.

“We looked for a date that wasn’t too booked,” Gallagher said. “Now, of course, there are lots of races on that day.”

Then there was the matter of where the proceeds should go, which was an easy call thanks to Donovan.

“James loved basketball, and he would go to Keysa Park and play,” Gallagher said. “The town has not put much money into it.”

The park was a logical spot for the start and finish of the race, and from there it was a matter of figuring out a route. Gallagher and the other organizers came up with a plan that gave her chills.

“At the 1.5-mile mark, the course will go past James’ house,” she said. “We’re going to ask everyone to give a shoutout to James. It’s kind of a quirky thing, but the house will be decorated so people will know it’s James Metz’s place.

“It’s important to my family to show people that’s where he lived, and that’s where he spent time. Maybe they’ll find some peace.”

There’s one last touch to the event that’s on the unique side. Due to the basketball connection, there will be a free throw shooting contest.

The Lancaster area so far has been good in supporting the effort. And volunteers probably won’t be too much of a problem, since Gallagher said it’s a large, close family. If it all comes together as she expects it to, this will be the first in a series of annual races.

“We don’t want to make it a one-shot deal,” Gallagher said. “It helps us heal.

“There unfortunately are tragedies that rock a community. This year it was our family. You ask, how does this happen? We pulled together stronger than ever. We need to honor James.”

Race calendar

• Elephant Run, 4 miles, Delaware Park Marcy Casino, Buffalo, 9:30 a.m. Sunday, 836-7045.

• Buffalo Orienteering Trail Run, 5 miles, Knox Farm State Park, East Aurora, 6:30 p.m. Thursday, 652-8727.

• Crouse 5K Challenge, 100 Legion Drive, Gowanda, 6 p.m. Friday, 860-8782.

• Buffalo Greek Fest 5K, 146 W. Utica St., Buffalo, 6:30 p.m. Friday.

• Run with the Rapids 5K, 101 Old Falls St., Niagara Falls, 9 a.m. Saturday, 278-2111.

• St. Peter’s 5K, 140 N. Sixth St., Lewiston, 10 a.m. Saturday, 622-2642.

• Chris Griswold 5K, Como Park, Lancaster, 10:30 a.m. Saturday, 685-2640.

• SSPP’s Charge of the Knights, 5K, 5480 Main St., Williamsville, 6 p.m. Saturday, 440-8003.